Sunday, June 9, 2019

Spring Salad of Arugula, Strawberries, Baked Goat Cheese & Candied Spiced Pistachios

Spring really is salad season.  I eat salads all year long.  But suddenly in the spring, when the local growers begin to bring heads of freshly harvested lettuce and bags of just cut baby greens and arugula, I begin to really relish salads.  Even the baby lettuces have substance and flavor.  They become far more than just a background for other foods; they are something I enjoy eating just for their own merit (and I often do—munching away on them as I’m cleaning them and putting them away).  So even though my last post was a salad…and I haven’t been posting as much recently because of the busyness of settling into my new home…I’m going to share another salad today.   This one features young arugula paired with the bountiful and flavorful strawberries that are filling the markets right now.

Arugula and strawberries are a fairly common salad combination.  The peppery bite of the arugula goes very well with the sweet and tangy strawberries.  And since they are abundant and at their flavor peak at right around the same time, making a salad of them is a no-brainer.  If you look around on line you will discover that many people add a salty and tangy cheese to the combination…like Feta, a blue or goat cheese…and usually a nut of some kind for added crunch.  I have not veered away from this combination at all.  Instead I have altered the manner in which I add the cheese and nuts.

For the cheese, I used goat cheese.  And instead of simply crumbling it over the salad, I form it into a round, coat it with breadcrumbs and bake it.  The cheese contributes a varied temperature element this way…and also textural variation if you serve it with toasts or crusty bread.  If you don’t want to take the time to form and bake rounds, you can of course just crumble the goat cheese over the salad.  But if you have never had a salad with baked goat cheese before, you really do need to give it a try. 

The nuts that usually appear in this salad are almonds or pecans.  Both are delicious, but I opted for pistachios.  I think their color is particularly.  And to echo the pepper and spice of the arugula…and emphasize the sweetness of the strawberries…I gave them a caramel and spice coating. They are so tasty this way that you’ll probably want to make extra just to have on hand for a snack.

When I worked at The American Restaurant many years ago, we used to put these pistachios (with just pepper for the spice—I’m also adding fennel and coriander) 

on a spinach and blue cheese salad.  It was on a banquet menu so every cook in the kitchen got to make them at one time or another.  I think every cook probably used a slightly different method when making them.  The process is admittedly a bit tricky.  I am giving two methods—one that uses the oven and another that is accomplished entirely on the stove top.  If you toast the nuts in the oven and add them to the hot caramel (my preferred method), you must work out the timing so the nuts are still hot when you combine them with the caramel.  If you don’t, you will have a hopelessly stuck mass of nuts and caramel.  If you choose to toast the nuts in a sauté pan and add the sugar after the nuts get hot (allowing it to caramelize around the nuts) you must be very careful not to scorch the nuts.  Either way, you will need a non-stick sauté pan, an oiled heat-proof spatula and an oiled baking sheet—and you will have to work quickly and be vigilant about tossing and stirring—even continuing to stir a bit after the nuts are out of the pan if you want to have perfectly separated nuts.  If you don’t mind having clumps/clusters, then you can just turn them out of the pan and leave them alone while they cool. 

My final addition to the salad is finely sliced spring onions.  I always keep masses of spring onions in my kitchen this time of year.  I use them as a base for pilafs, pastas and vegetables ragouts…and in salads.  When I cook with them I use some of the green.  For this salad I only use the white and pale green portion.  If you don’t have any spring onions, you may replace them with finely shaved shallot or red onion.  Just make sure that you soak the sliced or shaved onion (or shallot) in a bowl of ice water for five minutes or so.  This will soften the heat/bite of the onion and crisp them up at the same time. 

I hope that everyone is enjoying salads as much as I am this year.  But if not, you can still use the baked goat cheese and spiced pistachio recipes.  Both would make outstanding additions to an appetizer spread for your next summer party.   But I hope you do like salads...and I hope you will try this one.  I would love to promise that my next post will not be a salad post...but you never know.  Salad season isn't quite over yet.

Salad of Arugula, Strawberries, Baked Goat Cheese & Candied Spiced Pistachios

6 oz. soft, Montrachet-style goat cheese
Olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme or winter savory, if you like
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/3 c. fine, dry toasted breadcrumbs

3 to 4 oz. arugula, or arugula mixed with baby lettuces
1/4 to 1/3 c. very finely sliced (on a long bias) white and pale green of spring onion, soaked in ice water for 5 minutes and blotted dry
8 to 10 oz. strawberries—preferable on the smallish side (about a half ounce each), rinsed, dried, hulled & quartered
1 recipe Candied Spiced Pistachios
White Balsamic Vinaigrette

Cut the log of goat cheese into four slices.  It is likely the slices will be a bit misshapen, so use your hands to form the slices into 4 neat, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick disks.  If time permits (or you are thinking ahead) place 1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a shallow pan.  Add a few herb sprigs and a few grindings of black pepper.  Place the goat cheese rounds in the seasoned oil and turn to coat.  Let marinate for an hour or so (or overnight in the fridge), turning once or twice.  If you don’t want to marinate the goat cheese, simple drizzle the rounds with just enough olive oil to coat.  Place the breadcrumbs on a small plate or in a small dish.  Coat the goat cheese with the breadcrumbs.  Place the goat cheese rounds on a lightly oiled baking sheet or dish.  When ready to serve the salad, bake the cheese in a preheated 400° oven for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is softened and lightly bubbling at the edges.

While the cheese is baking, place the lettuces, spring onions and strawberries in a large bowl.  Season the greens with salt & pepper.  Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of the vinaigrette.  Use a sparing hand, you can always add more.  Toss until everything is lightly coated.  Add more vinaigrette if necessary.  Add the pistachios and toss to distribute.  Divide the salad among four plates.  When the cheese is ready, use a small spatula to transfer it to the plates.  Nestle the soft rounds alongside the piles of greens and strawberries.  Serve immediately with crusty bread or toasts.

Serves 4

If you don't have any goat cheese on hand, the salad makes a nice side for a Quesadilla, too

Candied Spiced Pistachios

1/2 c. pistachios
2 T. sugar
1/4 t. each black peppercorns, coriander seed, & fennel seed, coarsely crushed in a mortar & pestle
Kosher salt

Spread the pistachios on a small, lightly oiled baking sheet (or in a pie tin) and toast in a 350° oven until hot through—about 5 minutes.  The goal isn’t so much to fully toast the nuts as to get the process started—they will continue to toast in the caramelized sugar.  The goal is to get them hot.  If they are not hot when they are added to the caramel, the mixture will seize into a tight blob.  The goal is separated pistachios, coated with a light crust of spiced caramelized sugar.

Two or three minutes before the nuts come out of the oven, scatter the sugar in a small non-stick sauté pan (one that will just hold the pistachios in a single layer) and set over high heat.  Shake the pan occasionally to keep the sugar distributed.  It will begin to melt and turn to caramel almost simultaneously.  When the sugar has turned to liquid caramel, 

sprinkle the spices over the caramel and then scatter in the hot nuts.  Using a lightly oiled heat proof spatula to strategically stir and turn the nuts, helping them to become coated in a thin film of caramel.  

Reduce the heat if the caramel starts to smoke.  The nuts will want to stick together, but just continue to stir, turn, and separate them with the spatula until the nuts are mostly evenly coated.  Transfer back to the oiled sheet and use the oiled spatula to spread them out, separating them as much as possible.  

Some will persist in sticking, but they should break up fairly easily once the caramel has cooled.  Let cool and then finish breaking them up.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Alternatively:  Combine the sugar and the spices and set aside.  Place the pistachios in a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Toast the nuts stirring frequently, until they are fragrant.   Begin to sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts as you simultaneously shake the pan back and forth.  The sugar will immediately begin to caramelize and coat the nuts.  Continue to sprinkle the sugar and shake the pan until the nuts are nicely glazed with the spiced caramel.  Immediately spread the nuts on a greased cookie sheet to cool.

White Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 t. (slightly mounded) Dijon mustard
1/8 t. Kosher salt
1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Place the vinegar, mustard and salt in a small bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  The vinaigrette should be tangy and slightly sweet.  Store any leftovers in the fridge.  Re-whisk before using.

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Jennifer said...

This looks delicious! But I logged on to say, every time I pull out my chef's knife (and especially when it makes people look really nervous in my kitchen-that's just me, nothing to do with Paige), I am grateful for all I have learned from Paige! I make good food that people like. Paige has taught me so much over the years. Thank you for all the perfect recipes, excellent ideas and personal training!
If you ever get a chance to learn from Paige, TAKE IT!!

Paige said...

Thank you Jennifer!